“There is no one right answer. Every consultation is a learning experience.” – Cam McDonald, Right at Home Housing Society
First steps to get you on the road
1. Define your goals and objectives
- Clarify what is possible on the land you have available and understand the challenges or hurdles you face.
- Have a clear idea what you would like to accomplish with this project and what your needs and motivations are. Try working it together in a story that you can tell as you move forward.
- Be honest with yourself: is your idea really a good fit for the community on that parcel of land?
- As you clarify your goals and objectives, begin creating a list to separate negotiable and non-negotiable items. What is open for community input and feedback? And what is core to the project? (But be ready to revisit this list to make sure you are still on the correct path.)
2. Start thinking about process
- Are there consultants who can help you chart a path? If you are going to enlist some formal help, ensure they honour the principles and theory of engagement of this resource (the five principles or heartbeats)
- Look at the Together Wise Agreement and planning guide and ask yourself honestly whether you are willing and able to infuse each of the five values in your process and practice.
3. Do your homework!
Consider the fit of your project by exploring neighbourhood demographics, culture, and access to local services (including grocery stores, schools, pharmacies, daycares). Here are some suggestions:
- Go for a coffee (and a walk) with a long-time resident or community knowledge keeper to learn about how the community works, thinks and interacts. In your conversation, draw out and record community assets and liabilities. What does the community have going for them (assets)? What are they missing, and what hinders local vitality (liabilities)? Consider what the community is passionate about or worried about.
- Build relationships with people who would be good sponsors for your consultation process. Consider who has political clout or social capital in the community.
- Try going for a Jane’s Walk [Hyperlink: https://janeswalk.org/] with a group of residents to better understand the area and issues of the site in question—a walking consultation meeting!
- Talk to a community-building social worker.
- Explore online resources.
Don’t rush to give answers in these initial engagements. Just collect and record community concerns and questions, and give yourself time to prepare a response.
As you do this work, look for points of connection that will tell you where and how a development may be an asset or a liability to the community. Honestly weigh this in considering the fit of your project.